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Transformative Beginnings in Selkirk College’s Rural Pre-Medicine Program

Bob Hall
By Bob Hall
July 6th, 2020

Rebecca MacLeod’s passion for the violin has taken her around the world, but the Selkirk College Rural Pre-Medicine (RPM) Program graduate’s burning desire to help people brought her home.

Raised in Nelson, MacLeod attended the prestigious Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh on full scholarship and went on to achieve her Master of Violin Performance from the University of Toronto. An award-winning classical musician, her dynamic resume includes solo, chamber and orchestral performances across North America and internationally.

In April, MacLeod graduated with a cohort of nine RPM Program students and shortly after received word that she was accepted into University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Medicine. 

“I love performing and love playing music, but there are parts of the career that are challenging,” the 30-year-old says. “Music can be very individualistic with at-home practice and constant focus on your self-improvement. As an output it is social, but not necessarily on a day-to-day basis. There was a feeling of missing something, I wanted more. Medicine is a career where I could be working with people and feel involved in my community.”

MacLeod’s return to the West Kootenay to study for three years in the RPM Program on the Castlegar Campus paid off when she opened the acceptance letter from UBC that put her one step closer to becoming a physician. 

“It was extremely exciting,” MacLeod says of the accomplishment. “You never really imagine that moment when you are going through all these years of preparing… it was overwhelming, but also a huge relief. All those years of stress kind of just melted away.”

Musical Talent at a Young Age

MacLeod started playing violin when she was five and developed quick affection for the instrument. By the time she was in middle school, her parents were driving her to Calgary for lessons and her budding talents were fully apparent when she reached Nelson’s LV Rogers Secondary School.

By the time she graduated high school with the Class of 2007, MacLeod had auditioned at Carnegie Mellon and was accepted to one of the most prestigious music programs in the United States. She spent the next four years earning a formal education while continuing to hone her performance skills.

“Music is a very intense pursuit, you need a lot of focus and discipline,” she says. “I had a keen interest in the sciences as a high school student, but made the decision to pursue music right after graduation because there is a small window of opportunity. I knew I could go back and study sciences later, but I needed to take the chance to explore possibilities at that point.”

MacLeod poured her energy into music, earning praise for her technique and grace on the violin. Upon returning to Canada after graduation from Carnegie Mellon, she continued to study under some of the great talents in Toronto while forging a respected career of her own as a freelance musician. She performed with the National Ballet of Canada Orchestra, the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, Orchestra London and a long list of others.

“Toronto is kind of the hub of classical music in Canada,” she says. “There were lots of opportunities to perform and work with all these amazing musicians. It was a great place to both study and perform professionally. The city really fosters an artistic lifestyle where you can make a living performing.”

Homeward Bound for a Return to Class

MacLeod’s inner struggle between passion for music and science took hold in Toronto when she began looking into pathways for medical school. Still fond of her small town roots, her journey back home was sealed when her mom told her about the RPM Program at Selkirk College.

A unique program aimed at providing learners a focus on rural medicine, the three-year RPM Program accepted its first cohort in 2014. With strong support from provincial health care authorities and accepting universities, the comprehensive RPM Program is designed to help address the underrepresentation of rural students in professional health care programs.    

“I felt like this program would best set me up for success,” says MacLeod, who started at Selkirk College in 2017. “I could get the same content anywhere, but Selkirk College really felt committed to the success of their students. It was also an opportunity to come back home which was exciting for me.”

MacLeod is the eleventh RPM Program grad to be accepted into medical schools in British Columbia and Alberta in the last three years. Since the first cohort graduated in 2017, the program has also helped alumni progress on other degree pathways and health care pursuits. The September 2020 program intake includes 26 students, the largest first-year class to date.

“You have these world class science instructors teaching you at Selkirk College who are so committed to education,” MacLeod says of her three years on the Castlegar Campus. “It is pretty special to have one-on-one attention with a team who are leaders in their field teaching at a small school. The inspiration for learning goes beyond the facts and concepts. It’s about molding creative thinking and inspiring you to explore the knowledge you are passionate about.”

The Educational Journey Continues

MacLeod will be moving back to the big city in the Fall when she joins the other 191 medical school students in her cohort at UBC’s Vancouver Campus. Though she will continue to practice violin and perform occasionally, the next few years will be consumed with gaining the knowledge, skills and training to become a physician. It’s an educational journey she’s enthusiastically dedicated to completing.

“Health affects people’s lives every single day, so to be able to make an important contribution to individuals and communities is an exciting opportunity,” she says.

Though she has traveled far to reach many of her goals, it’s the home community advantage that has set her up for current success. MacLeod encourages others to do the same.

“It’s possible, don’t give up on your dreams,” she says of medical school. “Selkirk College is the perfect place for anybody, but especially for returning students because you have that support and encouragement that goes on behind the scenes. It is a very welcoming community on all levels, it’s a great place to feel truly comfortable in school.”

Learn more about the Selkirk College Rural Pre-Medicine Program .

Rebecca MacLeod (right) and Sophie Baird-Daniel met that the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto where they formed Duo 51. The harp and violin ensemble performed classical and contemporary music all across North America. — Submitted photo

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